Actor hyphenates are abundant in an entertainment industry where multiple talents are not just needed but sought after. There aren’t many actors who just act. Leonardo DiCaprio produces documentaries. Rachel Bloom writes and performs songs plus she’s a talented comedy writer. And Kimmy Gatewood directs.
Gatewood isn’t just any actor-director. She’s done shoots for the aforementioned Rachel Bloom’s excellent dramedy show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and the short lived Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale. More recently, Gatewood put her eye on Control and Consent, the latter of which is a short film fit for the Me Too era. Along with working behind the camera, Gatewood also co-stars in the Netflix series GLOW. I recently spoke to her about what it’s like working on the show and how she gets into her director’s mindset.
I'm so glad GLOW is back! It quickly became one of the few streaming shows I wanted to sit down and watch in a couple of days. With so much on the air now, that's a hard feat to accomplish. And the show is critically acclaimed! I can only imagine what the vibe is like on set.
Kimmy Gatewood: Thank you so much! There’s nothing better than being on a show where we all love working together so much AND we are getting such wonderful positive responses.
The show looks to be taxing, even if the wrestling is fake. What is the exercise regiment like? How far out are you actors preparing to do flips and take blows?
Gatewood: Well, the first thing I learned about wrestling from our trainer Chavo Guerrero Jr. is that wrestling is definitely not fake. In addition to being tremendous athletes, wrestlers have to have coordination, good communication skills, and be dynamite performers.
Before each season, we train for 3-4 weeks to get the moves back in our body and then we learn and plan matches throughout the season. The difference between our show and professional wrestling matches is that since we are filming, we choreograph our matches in advance. We also have to prepare our minds and bodies to do a match for 3-4 hours, take after take on camera. A lot of our training has to do with body awareness and stamina so we can take bumps and bodyslams at a pace where we can wake up and do it all again for 10 episodes!
GLOW utilizes the cast in complementary ways, both in and out of the ring. Seeing your character, Stacey, fight with her partner, Dawn as their elderly characters Ozone and Nuke (or my personal favorite's octogenarians Ethel and Edna) do battle with any other characters is always a delight. Was it difficult to find who Ethel/Ozone were inside the ring while also juggling who Stacey is meant to be?
Gatewood: I started my career as a sketch comedian, so doing quick change characters has been my personal forte. My favorite part of GLOW is when we get to be in the ring as these absurd characters. Liz and Carly, our show creators, crowned me and Rebekka “the rodeo clowns of GLOW.” It’s so much fun. And in terms of Stacey, it’s been a real joy to dig into Stacey this season as she becomes a bit of a villain.
Does having your real life comedy partner, Rebekka Johnson (Dawn), help elevate what your doing on screen?
Gatewood: We auditioned for these roles together because the creators were looking for real life best friends and comedy partners. Rebekka and I have been working together for over 10 years, so we have a shorthand. We write a lot of our own bits for the show – especially in the ring as the Biddies or the Toxic Twins – and if you’re ever looking in the background, you will probably see us doing a silly bit in the background. There’s nothing better than having your BFF/comedy partner always looking out to punch up a joke for you.
You've done writing but have gravitated more towards directing. After acting in GLOW, Conan, A Christmas Story Live! and other varieties of projects, what are some points you've taken away watching those directors?
Gatewood: I feel very lucky I’ve been able to work with some of the best directors in the business. I think the best directors are kind to the cast/crew, organized, and decisive. I know that sounds like boring traits for a director, but they are truly everything. The hours in TV can be grueling, so to approach the work with both respect and joy is something the best of the best do.
Writers seem to be good at what they do either by work or simply by having a good understanding of words, stories, jokes etc. Did the -- for a lack of a better word -- pivot towards directing come natural?
Gatewood: Coming from the comedy world you often have to wear multiple hats because you don’t have the time or budget. I often found myself in the directing position because I can step outside of myself and see the big story. I gravitated towards directing because I wanted to add my voice to the storytelling process. I am interested in seeing more female protagonists on screen with a more diverse palette of actors. As a director, you have a lot more say and power and I hope I can make an impact. In addition to of that, I love the fast-paced chaos of the director’s life. Moviemaking is a running target for adversarial conditions – weather! Budget! A late actor! A new script! I think it’s fun to problem solve – sometimes these obstacles lead to even better, more exciting ideas.
Does having an eye for direction open you up in an acting sense?
Gatewood: Absolutely. It works both ways. As an actor-director, you are more keenly aware of what pressures the director is under to deliver and technically speaking, you understand camera angles. However, I try to turn off my director brain when I act and live in the moment. On the flip side I love using my acting AND directing brain when I direct. I can speak the same language as actors and I love that. I also know what actors go through every day because I’ve been there – for example if they are in an uncomfortable outfit or uncomfortable scene, it’s important to develop a trust and create a safe place for actors to play!
GLOW has one of the better behind the scene units for a streaming show. The writing is both funny and heartbreaking. The lighting is proper. And the directors get to experiment with angles and swoops and other movements that are reserved more for action based shows. All of this comes thanks in part to the freedom the wrestling segments allow. Have you been thinking of how you'd tackle an episode? Is there anything new you'd like to try?
Gatewood: The behind the scenes crew of GLOW is absolutely stellar. Our showrunners Carly and Liz are so supportive and collaborative. I would love to direct an episode and collaborate in that capacity with them. I’d love to do an episode where all the GLOW girls are wrestling in new characters…or…wouldn’t a musical episode of GLOW be amazing?? Maybe Ruth is auditioning for a musical, bumps her head and suddenly it’s GLOW the musical? She wakes up it was all a dream! …I’m kidding of course…or am I???
I have to ask about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It's, without a doubt, my favorite show of the past decade. To be speaking with a director of an episode is filling my head with questions. I'll leave it at this: What was your process when it came to taking on show like that, especially for an episode that broke the format?
Gatewood: Fun fact, I played Monrovia Plaintiff in an early episode. Check me out doing my best Les Mis about Raging Waters sometime.
I agree that it is the absolute best show! I miss it terribly. Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom are incredible to work with. I’ve known Rachel for a long time – she is a musical genius in addition to being a kind a supportive friend and collaborator.
I was over the moon to be invited to direct the infamous cat episode (yes, the one where the singing cat represent vaginal problems haha). It was an episode like no other: it was chock full of singing guest stars and all of the musical numbers took place in Rebecca’s apartment. It was really fun trying to figure out how to choreograph a full dance number in a bathroom and how to build shadow cats. It was also fun to watch the series regular actors flaunt their acting chops. There were also some beautiful emotional moments and a ton of belly laughs. I thought the episode came out so funny and bonkers. I hope another show comes along like it (or how about that GLOW musical???)
Photo credit: Amanda Ramon